ERR in the US: Americans divided, tired going into midterm elections

Voter entrance marked at a polling place in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Voter entrance marked at a polling place in Warwick, Rhode Island. Source: David Goldman/AP/Scanpix

Tuesday marks Election Day in the U.S., when millions of Americans who haven't voted early or cast their absentee ballot already will be heading to the polls — to be contested in the 2022 midterm elections are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Also on ballots will be 39 state and territorial gubernatorial elections, in addition to various other state and local elections.

More than 40 million Americans have already voted, and ahead of Tuesday, it's more often been older people voting early at polling places.

"It's easier to vote early," said Michael, a Pennsylvania resident. "We live right here. We just cross the street, drop off our ballots and don't have to worry about the crowds of people or whatever."

According to Mark Carl Rom, associate professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University, polls are indicating that the Republicans will be more successful in the midterms and will end up taking the House. Majority in the Senate, however, could go either way.

"Even if the Republicans gain the majority in both the House and the Senate, we have a Democratic president who will veto all of their initiatives," Rom said. "So it's extremely unlikely that any major progress will be made over the next two years in resolving the biggest issues facing America."

Nancy Cordes, CBS News' chief White House correspondent, noted that if the Republican Party manages to take both the House and the Senate in Tuesday's elections, it will make the final two years of Biden's term as president difficult.

"Much of his agenda will be stopped dead in its tracks," Cordes said. "He's just not going to be able to get Republicans in the House, for example, to go along with a lot of the things that he wants to do. He'll have to try to find areas of agreement, but those are few and far in between, particularly with conservative Republicans, who are going to run the House if they are able to win back control."

The White House correspondent also noted that this would mean that the Democratic president will have his hands full with many new Republican investigations.

"Republicans have made it very clear that they plan to investigate everything from his son's [Hunter Biden] business dealings to crises at the border to the origins of [the COVID-19 virus]," she explained.

A higher voter turnout than usual for midterm elections is expected this year; more than 120 million Americans, or some half of all voting-age citizens are expected to vote.

'I wake up and think it's a nightmare'

Traveling around the country and speaking to locals and experts alike in the run up to Election Day, ERR's Washington correspondent Maria-Ann Rohemäe noted that in recent years, there has been talk ahead of every U.S. presidential and midterm election of a political divide that has driven Americans further and further apart. Nobody seems to be able to reach a consensus on any issue, whether it's the economy, the climate, guns, electoral integrity or abortion.

"We're Christians and, you know, we believe that God creates life, and I don't think that anyone has the right to, you know — unless it's a critical situation — to abort their baby," said Debbie, a voter in Georgia.

"Sometimes I wake up and I think it's a nightmare," said Xenobia, another Georgia voter. "I think it's not even happening. To think that this is the country that's — our country — that this is happening? And the abortion thing? People don't care. This just don't feel real to me."

"It's bad," admitted Peter T. Coleman, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University. "I mean, Jon Meacham, the historian, has compared today as being similar to where America was in the 1850s, right before the U.S. Civil War."

He said this has led to a situation where people avoid talking about politics.

"People are afraid to, because it's, you know — if you're at a dinner party, it can make that dinner party awkward really fast," said Thomas, a voter in Virginia. "Generally I think most people now err on the side of caution and don't really bring it up — if they don't have to."

"I try not to," acknowledged Lucy, another Virginia voter. "I have friends that I just say, you know, 'I think it's better if we talk about gardening.'"

"It feels like we've gotten to the point where we don't have an open, honest dialogue with each other without judging," said Don, a voter in New Jersey.

Voter at a polling station in the U.S. Source: ERR

Several years ago, Lee Rasch founded LeaderEthics Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting ethical leadership among elected officials. He believes it is cynicism that is driving the division of American society.

"It's not just politics, because what's happening is, it's resulting in the breakdown of trust — trust in other citizens, trust in our institutions," Rasch said.

According to political analyst Joseph Heim, however, political parties take advantage of this divide in elections.

"Some of it has to do with the psychology of voting," Heim explained. "If you wanna rile up your base and get them out in support of your candidates, happiness is second to cynicism. And anger."

Ultimately, however, politicians may end up achieving the exact opposite this way.

'Tired of the politics'

Rohemäe ran into an older married couple at a football tailgating event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who said they may end up not voting at all on Tuesday, as they're sick of the candidates' mudslinging. They declined to comment in front of the camera, but their friend Gary added that the couple's decision to possibly skip voting isn't an isolated case.

"There is a lot of apathy," Gary explained. "People think, you know, it doesn't matter. I honestly — I sometimes get very tired of the politics of everything, the political slant of everything."

"I'm really worried about the turnout," Lily said. "But I'm urging everyone I know to vote. I don't tell them how, but I ask them to vote, just so the people are represented."

"There's a lot of people who aren't happy with either side, because they feel like it's an extreme," Thomas said. "And most everybody doesn't sit in the extreme; they sit in the middle."

Americans seeking to bridge divide

According to a 2018 More in Common study, more than 90 percent of Americans are tired of the political divide dominating the country and want to figure out a way out.

Many Americans have opted to take part in programs aimed at bridging the gap and finding common ground between people with differing worldviews.

"There are 7,000 organizations and individuals that we have put on a map," said Nealin Parker, executive director of Search for Common Ground USA, a lecturer at Princeton University and an advisory council member of the university's Bridging Divides Initiative. "But if you're asking the question of how many people across the country are interested in participating, or organizations — that is just the tip of the iceberg."

"We at my center study deeply divided societies that at some point stop and pivot and choose to change course," Coleman highlighted.

The Columbia professor stressed that the political divide in the U.S. has grown in recent decades, but added that bringing people together is difficult, but not impossible. It just requires a will.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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